dephazz_pitPit Baumgartner's "Tales of Trust"

I first became aware of sampled spoken voices in songs back in the Stone Ages when I was in high school and grew obsessed with Pink Floyd's “Dark Side of the Moon”. The audio clips on that album (well, 8-Track to be completely honest), of crazed-sounding men saying things like “I've always been mad, I know I've been mad” and “I don't know; I was really drunk at the time” sent me into outer space. Of course the 70's-era wacky weed didn't hurt, and gazing at my blacklight poster of a ship sailing through constellations only added to the effect. But the point is that I realized decades ago that sampled spoken voices inserted into songs could absolutely change the aural dynamic.

Pit Baumgartner, who is best known as the creative genius behind the chillout sensation De Phazz, released an album this year that takes sampled elements to an entirely new level. Of course, electronic music, and chillout in particular, is rife with sampling. Tosca and Moby stand out as pioneers of using not only sampled human voices, but also chords, street sounds, crying babies, animals, whatever snippet sounds right. Likewise, Rob Garza and Eric Hilton build many of their songs around sampled elements, including snarfed guitar riffs and basslines, and even named their band “Thievery Corporation” in a winking nod to their ongoing thefts.

Mr. Baumgartner's new album is titled “Tales of Trust”. The album art (above) comically and explicitly states that “This Is Not a De Phazz Album”, which is to say that it pretty much IS a De Phazz album, albeit a solo work produced without his usual cohorts, singers Karl Frierson and Pat Appleton. Baumgartner, who has always been the creative force in the group, considers his approach to music production more akin to collage or painting than traditional composition. His musical constructions mirror the found-object visual art of Joseph Cornell, who famously scoured old book shops and secondhand stores in New York for the elements of his art pieces. Baumgartner does essentially the same thing by scouring old songs, TV shows, movies and instructional videos to find his components.

Like Baugartner's work with De Phazz (such as the masterful “The Mambo Craze”; see the video below), the chillout-centric songs on “Tales of Trust” serve up lush orchestration, lovely pads, appealing melodies and amusing lyrics, all glued together with sampled voices, chords and baselines. No “Trust” track reveals this more beautifully than the song “Turn The Page”. On paper it sounds silly: a spoken-word fairy tale about dogs and cats on the moon, with a man and a woman (who sound as if they're doing voice-overs for a 1950's era instructional film) repeating the phrase “turn the page”. All of this set to twangy electric guitar riffs and lush violins. But it all works to great effect.

(Note:  All of the "Tales of Trust" songs in this article can be heard in their entirety by clicking on the linked song name; the links take you directly to the song on Pit Baumgartner's MySpace Video page.)

The track “Noh Song” combines classical piano, strings and electric guitar with seemingly discrepant vocal components—sounds of an urban street fight; a male voice repeating the phrase “turn to god”— all meshed together with a maniacal soprano operatic voice singing something that to my ears sounds like “slipping and sliding”, but who knows what she is actually saying, if anything. The way Baumgarner pulls these elements together, the voice is used as a musical instrument, and not metaphorically.  And a bit of existentialism at the end when a man with a Southern accent opines "Now, reincarnation to me is a bum trip anyway.  I mean, who wants to come back here?"

There are 22 songs on this release, all of them interesting and appealing. My only complaint is that some of the tracks are too short. When mixing sets, I've solved the too-short dilemma by mixing, for example, the title song “Tales of Trust” into itself to double the 2:25 second length. This opening track is hysterical, by the way, sounding something like Gershwin meets Ellie Mae Clampett. Unfortunately Baumgartner has not made this song available on his MySpace video page, meaning to hear it you must buy or download it (if only so Mr. Baumgartner can afford to continue to ply his trade.)

Three more noteworthy songs you can hear with a click are “Virgin Forest” and “Easy Goodbye”, both sweet downtempo gems, and “Higher Love” which, typical of Baumgarner's work, is an amalgamation of appealing electronic sounds, lovely singing and an amusing spoken male voice repeating the words “something subversive.”

Subversive, indeed!

Pit Baumgartner on MySpace

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